Story postcard – sunshine and shadows (1)

The breeze lifts Simi from sleep. It plays through her room, teasing her mosquito net. She lies still and watches it billow around her, as her half-awake mind drifts like a ship without moorings, laughter and shouts splashing against its sides.

Slowly she starts to listen a little harder, and then suddenly, she draws the threads together with a snap.

The birdwalk!

She sits up and swings her feet to the floor, lifting the mosquito net over her head with one hand, while picking up her mobile with the other. The time is 9.30. She shrieks. Softly.

In minutes she is showered, and changed, and the curtains are open. Sunlight soaks across the room, so bright it feels like the middle of the day, and so far off the six o’clock start she’d planned that she feels completely disoriented. She steps outside, locks the door, slips the key into the blue-green of her kaftan, and then takes the short flight of steps up to the swimming-pool.

“Hi Simi, did you sleep well?” Eyes still adjusting to the light, Simi sees Jen, half-wrapped in a towel, standing by the edge of the pool.

“Too well. I’ve only just woken up, and I was supposed to go on that birdwalk.”

“Good morning,” calls Hansie. He is still in the pool, and raises a hand in greeting.

“Hello,” Simi replies.

“Don’t worry about the birdwalk. Nobody will mind about that,” says Jen. “We haven’t eaten yet either, so if you don’t mind waiting a few seconds, we’ll come and show you where everything is.” She reaches for another towel, then sweeps her hair to one side to dry it more easily.

“Are the birdwalkers all back?” Simi asks.

“Not all of them. And they are still serving breakfast. I had a quick look, before coming out here to check Hansie wouldn’t drown.”

Hansie laughs, and pulls himself out of the pool, water splashing off him like rivers from a mountain.

“Come. Let’s go and get something to eat. I’m starving.”

“Okay.” Jen puts the towel down, and pulls a t-shirt over her head, her long hair damp across its shoulders.

Simi follows them up on to the verandah, where she sees Tonderai clearing plates. He comes towards them, his tray loaded.

“Good morning,” he says. “I hope you’ve slept well.”

“Good morning,” Simi replies. “Very well.”

“Hi Tonderai. Hope there’s still some breakfast hey,” says Hansie.

“For sure. Plenty, plenty in the dining-room. Some walkers still coming. You must serve yourselves.”

“Thanks,” says Jen. “We’ll go and grab something, and then sit in the sun.”

Food collected, they find a table out beyond the bar, with a view of the golf course below. Along its river-edge, under the trees, they see a few stragglers from the walk making their way towards the lodge.

“They’ll be hot,” said Jen. “Glad I went for a swim instead. But we’d better enjoy the heat. Usually means it’s about to change when it goes sticky like this.”

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

Story postcard – when hope turns sideways (3)

Tonderai swings the final chairs into place, each half-moon now complete with bright white plastic seating. He steps back to count them.

“Looks great,” says Rudd, turning at the sound of voices behind them. He sees a pair of sun-hatted birdwatchers, strolling across the golf course, heading back up to the lodge. As he watches, more come into view.

“Tonderai, who’s cooking breakfast?” he asks, suddenly worried.

“Number two chef, Witness. He’s young. Not bothered by this rain story. No wives. No children. A young man – he lives forever.”

Rudd smiles. “Good. We need everyone to stay calm. I think we’d better go up to check all is well, shut away any stuff we don’t need just in case this storm does come.”

They slip in behind the last of the bird-spotters as they wander slowly across the green.

Rudd listens to the burble of chat, the talk of breakfast, the laughter, all untroubled by the weight in the air. He wonders where Simi is. As far as he can tell she is not in the group, and he knows she would be easy to spot if she was. He wants to ask Tonderai, but already his tall stride, neatly creased in khaki, has carried him too far ahead to hear him. Rudd walks a bit faster, legs stretching, and the sight of his own shorts reminding him that he should put on trousers for the service. He knows he has to make an effort to look the part – the manager. The white manager. He laughs to himself.

Tonderai could do this facing backwards. But … if the owners want to pay me, I’m not complaining. Anyway, they’re old guys, old school. They still think white skin is incorruptible. Maybe. Once upon a time. At least they know me. Always gripped tight to any rails I can find.

He lengthens his stride, trying not to jog.

Up ahead, Tonderai pauses and turns to ask him a question. “Have you told the guests? About the cyclone?”

Rudd catches up, and clears his throat. He is about to say something, then changes his mind. He rubs a hand around the back of his neck, and carries on walking. A few yards on, he calls back.

“One guy asked me this morning, before I saw those reports. So … no. I haven’t told them yet. Anyway, they’re up here to switch off.”

Tonderai does not answer, but Rudd sees his shadow on the grass, starting to overtake him. He walks a little faster.

“Tonderai, I’ve learned you have to feed these guys, before giving them bad news. Maybe I’ll tell them after breakfast.”

“Yes,” says Tonderai, now by his shoulder. “I told the staff after their early tea this morning. It will be good to tell the guests after breakfast. They should be told. It is our duty.”

 “Yes. After breakfast,” Rudd agrees, as they reach the grassy steps to the lodge. He looks up ahead, and notices that the sky behind the trees has a haziness to it. He can’t remember whether that’s normal or not.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

Story postcard – when hope turns sideways (2)

Tonderai does not respond immediately. Rudd waits as his assistant manager walks past him in silence, with a chair in each hand. He watches him stop to place the two precisely, one beside the other, into a half-filled row. Then he straightens up, and turns to face Rudd, his eyes sombre.

“It’s a problem. A big problem. Our chief was right. There is too much rain.” He pauses, his gaze sinking into the grass. “Our chief says this is a problem for God now, and that we must pray.”

Not sure what to say, and aware that Tonderai is watching him, Rudd begins to arrange his own pile of chairs. Once done, he walks slowly along the line, the fingers of one hand trailing lightly along their backs.

“Who knows if the storm will come,” Rudd says finally, with a shrug, and glancing quickly at the older man.

 “God knows,” Tonderai replies with quiet certainty.

Rudd gives a slight nod.

At least the man is calm. Course he is. Hopeless odds nothing new to him.

“What about your family, Tonderai?” he asks.

“Last evening I put them on the bus to go to stay with my wife’s brother in Mutare.”

“And Innocence?”

“His wife took the bus to Harare this morning. That is where her sister is. We took care of that. God may be too busy in Beira right now.” One corner of Tonderai’s mouth lifts, in a shadow of a smile.

Properly not taking chances. I suppose he’s right. Most of their houses won’t have a hope.

“And the others? What do they think?” Rudd calls after Tonderai as he heads off to get more chairs.

“They asked about Beira. When I saw those reports this morning I told them. I could not find you to talk about this first. I told them it is bad, and it is coming here. So chef Samere, and gardener James, they have gone home to bring their wives up here. The lodge is strong.” Tonderai stops, and waits for Rudd to reach him.

“How many will come?” Rudd asks.

“The chef has two children. They can stay in the kitchen with us. One is a baby, on his mother’s back, and the other is small too. James is newly married. No children yet.”

“What about everyone else? Their families?”

“Eish,” Tonderai shakes his head. “They will not come. They do not want to. They have nowhere to go. Some are too close to the river, but they do not know cyclones. They think their houses – new houses, brick houses – are strong. They do not know. They do not read what I read.”

Tonderai goes to pick up the last few chairs.

“And the others? All the casual staff?” Rudd asks, following him.

“Most of them, those workers, they come from Mutare. They are not worried.”

“Will we have enough help for the wedding?”

“For sure. Everyone. They will come by lunchtime. They need the money too much.”

“We need them, that’s for sure,” says Rudd.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023